Every child needs a family

UNICEF encourages the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reduce the number of children living in residential care by preventing family separation whenever possible and by seeking alternatives for children in family-based care.

Every Child Needs a Family


Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina) has made significant progress over the past five years in reforming its childcare system, however significant challenges remain to ensure every child’s right to grow up in a family environment.

The number of children without parental care can only be estimated (the definition of ‘without parental care’ is not a legal term nor is it in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s child-protection data management system). According to most recent (2015) official government statistics, the number of children without parental care in Bosnia and Herzegovina was 2,435 (0.35 percent of the child population).

UN Guidelines on Alternative Care for Children emphasise that poverty should not be a reason to enter alternative/institutional care. All means possible, including social protection provisions, should be taken to prevent this. Yet, according to a 2016 UNICEF Situation Analysis, economic factors drive one-third of children into alternative care. Moreover, the study found that a majority of children in alternative care (64 percent) reportedly have at least one living parent.

Institutional care, especially in the long-term, can have harmful effects on children’s emotional, social and cognitive development. It can cause developmental delays and attachment disorders, through the lack of opportunities to form selective attachments due to low staff-to-child ratios, shift work and a high frequency of staff turnover. Children below the age of three are particularly at risk of permanent damage.

Institutional care should be a measure of last resort and, whenever possible, for the shortest possible time. Yet there is still an over-reliance on institutions for children without parental care and children with disabilities in general. The study found almost half (48.5 percent) of children without parental care were living in institutions. The number was even higher for children with disabilities and without parents (70.7 percent) and for children under three without parents (87 percent).


UNICEF and partners support Government reform of the childcare system, particularly the transition from institutional reliance to the improvement of family and community-based care. Providing a continuum of care services at the community level will decrease the number of children who need alternative and institutional care.

These efforts are in line with the 2009 UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, which promote efforts to ensure that alternative care is only used when necessary and is appropriate for the child concerned.

UNICEF’s programming aims to:

  • Strengthen the social protection of vulnerable families to reduce the perceived need for alternative care, by improving family support services and addressing social norms and attitudes that can erode family success, such as discrimination and stigmatisation of children with disabilities, children from the Roma minority, and single mothers. UNICEF helps provide day care, respite care and early childhood development opportunities.
  • Improve decision-making on the side of centres for social welfare. UNICEF discourages eliminating funding of alternative care settings that encourage unnecessary placements, and encourages strengthening capacities and accountability for regular review of placements.
  • Ensure formal alternative care settings meet minimum standards, by supporting the review and development of laws, policies and guidelines for full compliance with the CRC and the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. UNICEF assists in establishing systematic and consistent implementation and monitoring of quality standards on alternative care for children.
  • Ensure care meets a child’s needs by strengthening a full range of alternative care settings, in particular through sound systems of foster care, and by advocating for institutional care only as a measure of last resort and/or in the short-term.